Let’s get this out of the way right from the top, baklava is a pastry originally made in central Asia, the Levant, and Eastern Europe. It’s comprised of layers of flaky pastry that enfold chopped nuts, typically pistachios, and a sweet syrup or honey. I ate a lot of baklava when I was in college, and I can tell you, I never found a bad one. Bad baklava is pretty good baklava, if you know what I’m saying.
I am above the cheap joke of writing a whole review of this delicious pastry, pretending it’s actually the other thing, which is a sort of stocking cap that covers the head, ostensibly to keep you warm when it’s very cold, EXCEPT when I’m talking to my kids during ski season, in which case I ask them every day what they’ve done with their baklava.
No. They don’t laugh either.
We could also easily fall prey to a digression about the balalaika, a three-stringed musical instrument with a pyramidal body played by Russian folk musicians. There are like eight different types of balalaikas, a few of which are comically large, and I feel confident I could riff on them, here and now, for as long as you’d be willing to pay attention.
But I’m not going to do that to you today, because I respect you as a reader. You’ve already wasted enough time on my nonsense.
Addressing the head garment then, I should note that the primary use of this not-fashionable accessory is for bank robbing. Or liquor store robbing. Really, any robbing benefits from the wearing of a balaclava, which is, for larcenous purposes usually called a ‘ski mask.’ If it happens to be cold out at the time of the robbery, well then you’ve got yourself a two-fer (not to be confused with a BOGO). As cyclists, we are unlikely to also be robbers, mainly because bikes tend to make poor get-away vehicles, but humanity doesn’t have a great track record of effective heist planning, the Ocean’s 11 movies notwithstanding.
The term ‘balaclava’ comes from the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, when British soldiers donned knitted head coverings to protect themselves from the predations of the cold blowing in off the Black Sea.
As a New Englander and a bike rider, I have had frequent reason to wear a balaclava. In fact, I own a range of them from light to heavy, depending on the outside temperature and the duration of the adventure I have planned. There are times of year here when the use of a balaclava is critical to riding comfort and the retention of the upper parts of your ears and the area of skin around your mouth. Sans balaclava I have felt these bits go entirely numb and then, disturbingly, begin to feel warm again.
As I did so often during the pandemic while wearing a gravdana, every time I put on a balaclava, I do think about doing a robbery. I’m just fortunate that I own zero guns and know I wouldn’t fare well on the “inside,” because my impulse control just isn’t that great, if I’m honest. My capacity for going outside when it’s so cold you have to wear a garment associated with criminals and axe murderers is much greater. And if you, like me, prefer to remain mostly undeterred by winter’s stoutest inclemency, I recommend you get a balaclava, too.
Big fan of balaclavas. Also big fan of baklava. My picture on my Strava profile is of me riding to work on the Chicago lakefront one morning when it was 2 degrees F. I am in full balaclava and ski goggles because the wind was howling and my eyes would tear up and freeze, sans goggles. There was only one other person foolish enough to be out, a woman running. I stopped her and said, “Hey, we’re the only two idiots out. I’ll take your picture in front of this chunk-of-ice/frozen-waves-that-looks-like-a-walrus if you’ll take my picture in front of this chunk-of-ice/frozen-waves-that-looks-like-a-walrus.” So we did. I believe I was wearing two balaclavas that day, a heavy fleece one and a lighter windproof Gore one over the top. My helmet strap was run all the way out to accommodate the balaclavas. There was a place around the corner from my office that made good bakalava. Can’t remember if I ventured out and got some that day.
I also have several but wearing two gaiters is more convenient, one on the head and one around the neck/chin. Then on the way home from work I only need the one on the head. How about a riff on gaiters? 🙂